By Gina Kramer
East Windsor Patch
March 27, 2011

The Melvin H. Kreps Middle School was in the spotlight Thursday night for its Peer-to-Peer program, when it was recognized during the East Windsor Regional Board of Education meeting Thursday night.

Led by the school’s New Jersey Peer-to-Peer (NJPTP) adult advisors Hillary Stryker, student assistance coordinator and Frank Vespe, Kreps’ counselor for the sixth grade, the peer mentors consist of a group of eighth graders specially selected to lead the school’s highly active program. The peer mentors are Nicholas Alston, Brionna Bryant, Justin Durrant, Alexis Emery, Nathalie Gonzalez, Maddie Grubbs, Jessica Lopez, Jonathan Lugo, Amani Najjar, Katelyn Reiss, Adiba Salim, Andrea Schrock, Sohum Shah, Gabrielle Wickizer, and Elyse Zilocchi.

The purpose of the program is to use student leadership skills to help younger students learn to cope with social and emotional issues, decision making and learning how to communicate with other peers, while focusing on the confrontation of alcohol, tobacco, drug and other abusable substances. These skills also teach younger students how to practice a healthy lifestyle and be confident with their decisions.

“We’ve been doing this for years now,” Stryker said. “It’s an honor and a pleasure.”

The student mentors put on a presentation showing what their job as a Peer-to-Peer leader means to them, and how they feel it affects the students that they teach. The presentation also included a short video of the mentors in action at one of their sixth-grade classrooms.

Following the video, one student mentor added, “It’s not just saying ‘don’t do drugs,’ it’s more fun for them.”

Board member Suzanne Fallon also contributed her thoughts.

“[The NJPTP mentors] are good role models for the students who look up to them, and for students who may want to become peer leaders themselves,” she said.

After the presentation, sixth grade school counselor Frank Vespe had a few words to add as well.

“Seeing the effect [the mentors] have on my students makes me feel like a proud papa again,” he said.

The New Jersey Peer-to-Peer program was started by former Governor Christine Todd Whitman in 1997 as a way to encourage middle school students to stay substance-free. The Kreps school joined the program in 2004.